What Would You Have Done? (Life at the Corner of Helpless and Well-Intentioned)

This is a true story. It happened a couple of weeks ago, and it keeps coming back to me like that one unmatched sock in the wash. I’m wondering what you would have done, had you been in my shoes.

The other day I was at the corner gas station, filling my tank, when a Hispanic man approached me with a toddler on his hip, a gas can in his hand. His English was only slightly better than my Spanish . . . but I understood that he wanted me to buy a couple of gallons of gas for him. I looked at his van, with Texas plates. No one else was inside. I asked him where the baby’s mother was. “She’s gone. Left him with me. I’m going home to find work in Texas.”

As I pumped gas for him, I wracked my brain for what to do. The little boy was skinny and grungy and silent, wide-eyed as he clung to his dad. I asked him when he and the baby had eaten. His non-committal answer prompted me to take him next door to Walmart and get a few things. Some milk and bread and apples. A pack of diapers. Gabriel was effusive in his thanks. Little Diego just stared. I had never seen a baby so quiet. Part of me wanted to take them home, let them do their laundry and maybe put the dad to work in the yard for a bit of pocket money. But he wanted to get back on the road.

I wasn’t sure I’d read the situation correctly. Should I have called child services? What if the little boy’s mom was looking for Diego? I wasn’t sure that he was a legal resident. If not, what would have happened to the little boy?

What would you have done?